On Music & Optimism

Wednesday, Feb 23rd, 2016 

I stand on the verge of finishing, what I believe will turn out to be, one of our most important songs so far. It’s been a tough slog and, as often happens, I ran into a new problem that I had never encountered before: this time a missing couplet in the chorus that I couldn’t figure out for the life of me. At one point, I spent the better part of 2-3 weeks locked in a room trying to figure out 4 words. Yep. FOUR words. One syllable each. At the end I came away with exactly nothing. It was harrowing stuff and a far cry from the heady excitement of when this song idea had first surfaced! 

The truth is that, for me, songwriting is less a passion than say, a bodily function, or a scab I have to scratch. I don’t usually get a whole lot of “pleasure” from it except for the few minutes after a song has finally been completed.  Which is not as often as I’d like! In fact, most of the time, writing songs is nothing short of torturous. Pretty sad if you think about it!  I don’t know how it is for most others but I’ve just never found it easy, and the hardest part is that gnawing feeling that you never quite know what you’re doing. 

I do know that for many who write, it’s a process and they know their process well and run through it from point A to point Z and then out pops the Everlasting Gobstopper at the end! But I’ve never had a defined process. Instead every new song is a brand-new universe with its own set of rules, its own gravity, its own space-time, or what-have-you, and I am constantly just trying to get to grips with the “whatever-it-is-ness” of it all. By the time I figure that out, the song is done and I have to move on to the next universe where I start all over again from a new musical Big Bang. 

Lyric-writing is particularly painful. Y’see I’m not much of a thinker. Nothing unusual there. With enormously rare exception, I don’t think most people are. (of course I could be entirely wrong on that!) But it means I don’t really have much I want to say. Instead I see my job as being to listen to what the music wants to say and to capture that as best as I can without the “me” getting in the way. It’s more like a transcription job with the words coming through the ether. If they come at all that is! Or maybe again like building a LEGO thingamajig except you don’t know if you have all the parts, you only have a couple of lines of instructions, and you don’t even know what the thing is for, or if you’ll have any use for it when it’s finished! 

In that sense, writing songs in the way I do is really the work of the eternal optimist. And I am nothing if not optimistic! I think my Big Pop Heart will be proof of that when she’s finally done. 

-- Mani Cregan​

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